A federal court handed down a big victory for voting rights advocates June 11 when it ruled that Ohio must maintain three days of early voting previously eliminated by Ohio Secretary of State John Husted. U.S. District Court Judge Peter Economus ruled that the state must provide voting the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before election day. Democrats have been fighting state laws and orders from the secretary of state that they say unfairly affect urban minority voters.
In 2012, the Republican-controlled state legislature voted to eliminate weekend early voting, though a lawsuit by Democrats, including the Obama campaign, led to that law being overturned.
Earlier this year, however, Husted, a Republican, adopted a voting schedule that eliminated Sunday early voting.
The schedule was put together by the bipartisan Ohio Association of Election Officials. Democrats say the elimination of Sunday voting disadvantages inner-city black voters, many of whom are organized by urban churches that provide transportation to polling places on Sundays before elections.
During the 2012 election, a close advisor to Republican Gov. John Kasich admitted that support for Husted’s then-new “uniform voting hours” — which also limited early voting and weekend hours across the state — was based on the potential to limit black voting, which typically favors Democrats.
“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine,” wrote Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, in an email to The Columbus Dispatch on Aug. 19, 2012.
As one of the country’s most important swing states, Ohio has become a battleground for voting rights issues, especially early voting. Hamilton County has been a hot spot in the fight. In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, long lines formed outside the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cast early ballots.Recently, grassroots efforts have taken shape to assure access to voting. State Rep. Alicia Reece has been working to get the creation of a Voting Bill of Rights on the state’s November ballot. The bill of rights would guarantee early voting days and protect voters from poll worker errors. In order to get on the ballot, the referendum needs 385,000 signatures before July 2. If advocates can’t get all the signatures they need this time, Reece has promised they’ll try again for 2015.